Monday, August 31, 2009

Playa Majagual

We managed to get out of the house by 10:30 on Sunday morning to drive to the Pacific Beach. Along the way we saw rice fields and plantain plantations. Cattle were grazing by the side of the highway. An oxen was resting in the shade in a little bit of a ditch. Horse carts traveled the Pan American highway, and there was even a colt standing in the middle of the road. A boy was herding cattle with a little red flag on a stick and a young bull almost ran in front of a truck. Jonathan was worried about how long it would take to get to the beach, but with the new road from the highway to San Juan del Sur, we drove quickly to Playa Majagual. Only the last 10 KM or so was on a rutted dirt road. This time we didn't drive by the beach turn off.

We parked in the yard of the little cooking hut and ordered 4 fish dinners to be brought to us on the beach. We knew from before that his is some of the best food in Nicaragua. We ate grilled swordfish with flavorful sauce, vegetable rice, tostones and salad. It felt really pricy at $6.50 a plate. But we felt like being on vacation. We walked down to the beach, protected in a cove. It has a mild shallow surf. We hung our clothes on the nearest tree and the boys rushed into the water. I sat in the shade for a while and looked at the green hills. Lunch was carried down on real plates.

The boys spent most of the time in the water, but Jonathan and I went walking over to the rocks on the north end of the beach. When we came back, the boys were sitting in some warm pools of water in the sand watching the gastropods and segment worms. Jules was able to identify everything because of Marine Biology last year. We all walked together to the other side of the cove looking for animals in the little tidepools in the rocks and talking about other tidepools in other places, all of which were places Noah preferred to be. It was like when the kids were little and we spent hours, days looking at tidepools. To do it with them again felt like a gift.

It was really warm, and I told myself I would not feel cold again for a whole year.

What I saw today

This little boy was riding this bike around the restaurant where the Puedo Leer teacher training was being held. I walked out to the road to look at Mombacho and he held up one finger and said do you have a peso? No I said, but I'll take your picture and you can look at it. He liked the picture and then he said as I was walking away, Do you have fifty dollars?

I saw a beautiful cow tied to a tree next to the teacher's house with pigs in the yard.

I saw 3 different funeral processions, one was almost to the cemetery and had the big glass covered carriage with white lace curtains and lots of people walking behind. The other was almost ready to leave the house. They had the more simple cart without the glass, but still very beautifully carved. The body hadn't been put on it yet. The other procession was making its way to the cemetery from the church. All of these had many family members. Carol said, she once saw a carriage that only had two people following it, a little boy and a man.

One of the fancy carriages is kept across the street from us in the coffin shop. I like to look in there at night at the coffins they are working on and the chairs all stacked against the wall waiting to be rented. After the chickens and the bells, the next sound I usually hear in the morning is the whir and whine of the saw in the coffin workshop.

I saw a grade school band marching down the street and blocking traffic in front of the post office for about 20 minutes. The pom-pom girls were about 6 and wearing their school uniforms, going through their formations at the sound of the teacher's whistle. The older girls were dancing with those sticks, but they had changed into their jeans. I've heard there is going to be another parade September 7.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Open House

Thursday night was Parent Open House at the American Nicaraguan School. We drove ourselves into Managua in the evening, skipping dinner to be on time. We were greeted by two volunteers behind a table of schedules just like at home, except here there was no line. The college counselor, Rachael gave us a quick kiss hello and invited us to see the UPenn people who would be visiting at 7:00, but we decided not to check them out because we really aren't ready to start all that.

ANS is a large campus with rows of about 5 classrooms connected by covered walk ways. When we first visited in the spring last year, Noah said it looks like a resort, but really it just looks like a school in California. We got lost a few times, but managed to meet most of both kids teachers. Some teachers were talking to groups of parents at a time, but mostly we got to chat individually with the teachers and took the opportunity to see how the kids were adjusting.

Things seem to be going well. The math teachers were enthusiastic as usual about our brilliant children. We told them they go to school with about 1000 other kids that are just as smart as they are at home. But maybe not as conscientious about their school work. As some of the few native speakers of English at the American school, our kids enjoy a huge advantage over their classmates in reading and writing. Still these kids are getting ready for the same AP tests that the Juniors in the states are taking. I wish my kids were having the opportunity to study more about Nicaragua and speak more Spanish, but I'm afraid this is the consequence of waiting until they are this old and far along in their education to come here.

I'm enjoying being a private school parent for the first time. The classes are small, I don't think there are more than 18 in any of the kids classes and they each have only 4 or 5 kids in their Spanish Language Learners class and about 12 in their math classes.

We finished of the evening in the band room where we ran into our friends Thelma and Laurence because Hobbes is the premier Trombonist at the school. The band teacher is excited about Noah's ability and paid him a very high compliment. He said, he's by far the best clarinetist and I have 2 Koreans who play!

Power Outage

The power was out all day yesterday which meant that there was no internet. I worked until I ran out of battery and then I had to find something else to do. We went out to lunch at the Garden Café. We saw four Union Fenosa (Electric Company) workers waiting in the shade on the corner by their truck. When will the electricity be back on? They are replacing a pole down the street, we’ll turn it on at 4:00. The electric is out in the whole town. There are a few generators running in front of stores, but it is beautifully quiet, no radios, no TV’s no electric tools. The lack of electricity intensifies the usual torpor of the after lunch hours. It was really hot so I laid down on the bed in the cross breeze and took a nap.

I woke up to a strong wind whistling over the roof and through the wires. Cooler air rushed into the room. Soon it began to rain sideways and I got up to mop the water up off the wood and squeegee it off the now very slippery tiles. Why does it always rain right after Christina leaves so I have to do this myself?

Jonathan and I are a little bored with the lack of internet and Moni is coming later today because of the rain, so we decide to go to the supermarket to get some chicken for dinner. Fortunately, Pali has some back up generator for refrigeration. Not that it really matters, Jonathan points out, because they just took the chicken out of a tub that was in the middle of the floor. We pick up a few essentials and head out through the market street. We take the short cut through the market on the street where all the nice ladies are selling fruit, although it all looks a little worse for wear this late so we don’t buy any. We decide to see if we can find Tignieu’s house to get some bread for Shabbat dinner, so we turn into the market to head that way. But now we are in the covered area where they usually sell meat and everyone has left except for a few guys. It stinks. I don’t even like walking through here in the morning. We pass a pool hall and Jonathan says don’t ever walk here by yourself. Don’t worry I say. Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t say anything because I’m really pissed that we are walking this way.

We emerge into the light and it is like a medieval village. A narrow street with high walls, children running through the street, we pass a blacksmith’s shop. Tignieu’s house is two stories and we are glad to see that he is there. It’s dark inside except for the light from his huge brick wood burning stove in the middle of the room. Round loaves of bread are piled on the table and he is raking the coals around with a poker. Tignieu, a sinewy French man of indeterminate age is bare-chested with an apron on and a floppy baker’s cap. Also a dust mask because of the smoke. He greets us with his usual very slow Spanish and we walk in and we see his wife who is making pasta with a small machine. We jabber about the pasta which she is making about one noodle at a time. She doesn’t say a word. We buy two loaves of hot bread and walk home the back way. The street is still quiet but people are moving out onto their stoops in their rocking chairs.

The funeral announcement car drives by. It is an old gray car mounted with speakers that goes through town slowly whenever there is a funeral. There is a recorded message with dramatic somber music giving the details of the dead and the funeral. ‘Profesor Jose Maria Chavez Lacayo, formally teaching at the Carlos Bravo school has dunh dunh dunh passed away at the age of 78. Violin music. May he rest in peace. The family will be present on Calle El Martirio and services will be tomorrow at 9:00.’ Full orchestra swells with sad music.

I once asked Moni, our cook, why they don’t just put an ad in the newspaper. She said, well you can’t expect that everyone has 7 pesos for a newspaper. How would people know when the funeral is?

The power was back on around 5.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I finally gathered up my courage and walked across the street to the Lesman Studio to get my hair colored. Asking for the owner, I said, can Manny color my hair sometime today or tomorrow. Marisol told me sure, right now is fine. I told them I’ll be back in half an hour. I go back and Mairisol sits me down in the chair. What color do you want? And she hands me a book with little samples of hair. Well I don’t know, can you help me? Lester comes over to help, but I still think his name is Manny because both Lester and Manny change the color of their hair every week and I only see them in passing, so I am still confused about who is who.
I try to explain I want my hair just like it is, very natural with some lighter bits, but not too light and not too many. You can tell me in English he says. Of course I hate it when people do that so I go on in half English and Spanish. I try to give him the directions Cindy told me – Only use 10 Ammonia, not twenty. Why don’t we use this he says, it is ammonia free. I’m sure that is what he said, but when it went on my head my scalp was burning and tears were running down my face. I picture all of my hair falling off.

But Lester does a nice job getting every single root and I learn that he isn’t from Granada, but grew up in Costa Rica with Cuban parents. The huge lady that is sitting behind the register is his partner Manny’s mom and the pedicurist applying big resin nails is Manny’s sister. Then there are two other underlings, Fanny, the most underling who does the cleaning and an unhappy assistant who I often see washing the steps off in the morning.

There is a nice gossipy hum in the little courtyard as Marisol invites me to get a manicure and pedicure while my hair soaks. Lester sets the timer for 20 minutes for my hair and Marisol starts on my feet. She hands me a Vanidades (like a cross between People and Marie Clare) and I try not to think about sterilization of instruments. So far I haven’t seen any of those comforting jars of blue stuff they have at beauty shops in the US and there definitely isn’t an autoclave. Marisol has 5 children which I found out about because I was trying to ask her if she was hungry (because she was working on my hands and feet during lunch time) but instead I asked if she had a man. Now this is a beginning Spanish mistake (tiene hambre or tiene hombre) but since I have so much trouble with vowels – a problem I attribute to growing up in Chicago where there is only one vowel sound – it is one I am still making. I also often ask for a book (libro) of meat instead of a pound (libra).

Anyway, we both laughed and I told her how embarrassed I was and talked about our kids. She is about twenty years younger than I am. We were clipping along and the timer rings and Lester squeezes more goop in my hair and Marisol finishes my feet. Actually in the middle, she rinses out my hair blasting water in my ear. How does the salon get that water pressure? No one else has any.

While we are in the courtyard, it fills with a particularly acrid smoke and my eyes are burning again and I can hardly breathe. What is that smoke I ask Lester? Oh the people behind us make charcoal and they must be using some particularly green wood. Is it always like this? Hardly ever he says. And I used to not go to Frenchy’s because it smelled like nail polish remover. Which is exactly what the sour faced assistant fetches to rub the brown ring of dye off of the skin around my face.

We start the pain staking process with the highlights. Lester yells at the assistant because the foils are too narrow. They are actual foils made by ripping off little sheets from a roll of Reynolds Wrap. Lester puts all of my hair up in about twelve little twists. A few clips fall on the floor and the assistant picks them up and puts them back on my head. Out of each twist Lester weaves a few strands out and slathers them with a very strong ammonia solution and carefully folds the foils around them. He tells Marisol to go get him some white beans for lunch. First he starts by asking for a half pound and then decides to get them already cooked. There is a long discussion between Manny’s mom and Lester about white beans and the other things Marisol should get. Marisol, aren’t you going he asks. OK, OK. She says. You’d better take a cab, Lester tells her.

Marisol leaves and comes back and we are still doing foils. Jonathan has come to check on me, Christina has come to say she has to go. Angel comes and gets the car and I am still sitting in the chair. I’ve been there 3 hours and Lester finishes the foils and I say, how much longer (in Spanish and English just to be sure) because I have to go somewhere in forty-five minutes. Five more minutes he says and goes back to eat his lunch. After 20 minutes I start begging Marisol to take the foils out so I can get out of there. I have a very short attention span for beauty and spa treatments and I had definitely hit my limit. I had a terrible headache from no lunch and no water and the charcoal smoke and the ammonia. It was about 100 degrees in the shop and Manny tells me that if I take the foils out now it won’t be good and I say I have to go. Take them out anyway. OK he says just sit under the dryer for a few minutes. I sit under one of those old lady dryers and sweat, sweat, sweat. Jonathan brings me a club soda. I last about 10 minutes and then I go get Marisol and say NOW! I have to go. Lester leaves his lunch and helps Marisol rip the foils out of my hair. She washes it and Jonathan comes in and says the taxi is here, should we go without you? And I say Go. Marisol says just 10 more minutes and Jonathan decides to wait and goes to pay my bill. I am actually astonished that it is 50 dollars, but the highlights do look nice. And I got a pedicure and manicure. Still.

We book out of there and later when my hair is dry and I look at it there are two very thick blonde streaks going up the back of my neck when my hair is up. It looks like a skunk. And my ends are really dry. Oh well. I think about trying the other salon in the neighborhood. The one that Peta says has a nice breeze going through it all the time.

I wash my hair again before I go to bed and slather it in conditioner to get rid of the chemical smell. I have nightmares. I go to yoga in the morning and all I can think about is the white streaks in my hair showing because I have my hair in a ponytail. Not very yogic of me. So I tell Christina I’ll be back and go see what Lester is doing. He’s reading a magazine in his chair. Hey can you throw some more color on these highlights and cut it a little? Sure, sure he says. Manny comes over and looks, oh yeah good color but they are too light.

Marisol takes me back to the tub and holds most of my hair up while Lester works some more color into the streaks. Marisol stands and holds my hair on the top of my head for about 5 minutes then Lester washes out the streaks and Marisol washes my hair. I head to the chair and Marisol combs and Lester trims. It takes about 5 minutes. Marisol tries to talk me into a heavy duty Keritin treatment, but she mentions that it takes 3 hours and you can’t wash your hair or go in the sun or water for 4 days afterward. No thanks, I say, I’ll just use olive oil. Yes she says, that will make it shiny, but it won’t repair the structure. Too bad. Lester adds some mousse and I am done. They just charge me for the haircut which was $3.

This is the after shot. Before was worse.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tourist for a week

Melanie and Cyn’s visit last week fortunately coincided with the end of my one and only for pay project, so I was free to run around with them, except for Spanish lessons. It was so much fun. They arrived with 3 small battery operated alarm clocks, decaf coffee and (drum roll) a ream of lined loose leaf paper WITH THREE HOLES ALREADY PUNCHED IN IT. They also schlepped down two books I had ordered and shipped to Melanie. And they were only doing carry-on which makes their effort extraordinary.

They got their own bedroom, but they had to share the bathroom with the boys which all parties involved seemed to have survived. I walked into the boys room and said, wow, doesn’t it smell great in here with Melanie and Cyn using their products? They whole heartedly agreed and we all resolved to buy a higher caliber of personal care products.

They quickly were referred to by all as the muchachas, as in are the muchachas still sleeping, have the muchachas eaten yet (by Christina) do the muchachas need to be driven anywhere (by Angel) which one of those muchachas is your sister (to me). Melanie was quickly recognized by everyone in town by her blondeness and tattoos.

We took them to Chico Tripa and subjected them to all the fun of Carnaval and Hipica. We watched the sunset from the balcony and counted the bats as they flew out of the neighbors roof. We swam at Laguna de Apoyo, hiked Mombacho and did the night tour at Masaya (too many bats to count). We tried the new zip lines and were all put off by the inappropriate chumminess of our guides.

We swung in the hammocks and discussed wide ranging topics. We gossiped about work. Melanie and I had our nails done. Now I am sitting on the balcony by myself; the clouds are pink over the cathedral and the bells have just finished ringing. The bats are heading out for the night and I am watching their zig zag flights. It’s kind of lonely.
Thanks to Cyn and Melanie for the photos which I can't seem to get in here right. I've gotten very lazy about taking my camera places.


Three weeks ago we gave Lucia money to initiate the pig business and she has been wildly successful. She needed to buy a freezer, some cement to make the floor of the meat processing area, some big hooks and pots and few other things. She got everything together and was able to slaughter her first pigs the same week. She was going to start with one for practice but she ended up buying two small boars.

Lucia, Sylvia, Eugenia, Rudy, Omar and Jose were up all night. First they got everything ready and then at midnight the butcher came to slaughter the two pigs. He is a master butcher who has been doing this work for 30 years, always at night. He cut everything up and the family prepped and packaged and every bit of pork was sold or spoken for by 8 o’clock in the morning. Lucia activated her extensive network of family, friends and neighbors. Omar, Rudy and Jose went off in three different directions to deliver the meat around the city. Sylvia said that often they just cook it when it arrives and everyone eats it for breakfast. Imagine having meat on your breakfast table that was that fresh in a city in the United States.

We were celebrating the success of the first week and Lucia’s birthday at our local Chinese restaurant. We had pork and the Weinstein family even ate a little. Jonathan asked the waiter who buys the meat here and he sent the owner over. Lucia gave her spiel and he promptly ordered thirty pounds of loin for 33 Cords ($1.50). He was disappointed to hear that she only slaughtered once a week.

So last week Lucia went to the countryside in Masaya to a large pig farm and picked out two large pigs to slaughter. This time they agreed that one person would get to sleep some while everyone else worked through the night. It was Sylvia’s turn to sleep, so she was a little more rested when she showed up for class.

Lucia delivered the pork to Huy in the Chinese Restaurant and he was pleased with the quality. Lucia was delivering ribs on the bicycle, sitting side saddle while Omar pedaled with a red plastic pail on the handle bars. She set the pail on our floor and pulled the glistening ribs up with bare hands, running them through her fingers like they were piles of gold. She looked really chic in her pedal pushers and tank top. Then she put the top on the pail and headed out. She chews on her nails while we are discussing potential customers.

Each week, they keep a little bit of the pork to make nacatamales and sell them on the weekends. They sell them mainly to their family and neighbors. These three weeks they have sold every single part of the pig and eaten none of it themselves without paying for it. They want to make sure the profits go back into the business and are concerned about paying us back.

This week there was a problem with the nacatamales. The woman who made them did something wrong and most of them were bad. Fortunately, a family member discovered the problem before they were sold, but they had to be thrown out (fed to the pigs I am sure). They lost some of their profit this week, but we are waiting to settle the books for the week with them. The last two weeks, they made enough to buy the next pigs, but they need to do some further calculating to see if this business can really sustain the family.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


People have been talking about the Hipica since we got here. Granada’s horse parade is one of the best in the country and is the culmination of the festivities around the Ascension of Mary day. Our house is two blocks from the parade route and things got started early, although not the parade of course. Our neighbor across the street who owns the Pulperia had a big awning delivered and set up chairs and tables under it. The barbecue was going early and there were coolers of cold beer. People were starting to park in our street. We decided to beat the heat and crowd for a while and headed out to Laguna de Apoyo with Melanie and Cyn to swim.

When we got back, traffic was not really moving into town. It was pretty much a standstill with LOTS of people on horses and LOTS of cars from Managua and elsewhere driving in. Roads were (very effectively) blocked off by huge piles of sand, so we couldn’t circumvent the detour. Crawled for a while. Finally, Melanie and I got out and walked up to the next street to see if people were actually being allowed to cross. There was a police officer sort of directing traffic. When a group of riders went by, a few cars would make their way across the road. Finally we got back to our neighborhood weaving around out of towners, pedestrians and lots of people on horses. Our street was fully parked up and many people were eating at the pulperia.

We walked down to the parade route and watched the parade. We missed the organized part, if there was one, and now it was just an endless stream of horse riders. Little girls wearing traditional dresses, cowboys whose horses did fancy steps and LOTS of drunks on horses galloping through the crowd. Many stores had the gigantic rented speakers and were blaring music. The dancing horses would prance by to the beat.

There were supposedly many pick pockets in the crowd, but we took nothing with us, having been forwarned. There were venders everywhere, lots of cold beer, nacatamales, hot dogs, candy apples, risquillos, plantain chips, ice cream, vigarones,

We watched for a while and then retreated home for a swim. Our neighbors had a band with a marimba at their stand and people were dancing. We heard horses going up and down our street long into the night. The next day, all the cars left and it was quiet again, but there was trash everywhere.


Last Friday -

Walking through the streets to the bank this morning I went through the square where they are setting up for the carnival today. Lots of old timey carnival games. Also at the lake over the past two weeks the carnies have been slowly setting up. They build their houses out of used tin and timbers. It looks ancient but only just showed up. The rides look like they are from the 1930’s. They very likely are.

I wanted to be sure that I didn’t miss Carnaval so I headed out at 4:45 pm to look for it. It was supposed to start at 4:00. I walked along the parade route all the way to the Polvoro where it was supposed to start. People were settled down on the sidewalk in chairs or sitting on stoops the whole way, just waiting. I saw Cristina and her sisters who had come into town for the weekend. Carina and Elton, her kids were already bored and restless. It was about 5:30.

At the Polvera, floats were waiting to begin. Victoria Frost (a new ice beer from the Pellas monopoly) was sponsoring the event, so there was a wintery theme to the parade. Except for the hundreds and hundreds of girls and boys dressed in Rio style samba outfits. I saw the Carnaval Queen leave the bus accompanied by her mom. she came on wearing little more than a bikini and glitter powder.

A band of clowns was juggling and making animals out of balloons for the crowd. Lots of beer was sold. The bomberos were in the front with their new bombero boat. I took a picture of two kids wearing Policia National uniforms. I waited. I leaned against a wall. I walked up and down. I sat on a stoop. When the bomberos took off, I surged to the front of the crowd by Maria Auxiladora. But the rest of the parade didn’t take off. My feet hurt. At 6:15 I went home for Shabbat dinner and then Jonathan and I went to the airport to pick up Cyn and Melanie.

By the time we got back and got them settled, it was 10 and we went out to Calzada to see what was going on. The parade was just ending. The dancers were still salsaing their hearts out when the bands played, but they looked a little tired.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I wanna be more Nica

The gringos - here that refers to anyone from the US, Canada, Europe or Australia - are easy to spot in the street. Middle aged, they are disheveled, flushed, sweaty and rumpled in practical sandals and shorts. Sometimes loose dresses and skirts. Frizzy hair. Sun hat. The younger ones, more sweaty, less flushed. Layers of loose hippie clothes, tank tops, lots of bare skin, tattoos, piercings. Or if they are on a mission, matching t-shirts, shorts, sandals and neat hair cuts. They walk in the sun.

But the Nicas always look as if they have just finished getting ready. Hair glossy and neatly combed. Jeans and polo shirt for women and trousers and button down for men. Some women in shorts. They are never dripping sweat. Partly because it is very common to carry a hanky or washcloth everywhere in case the slightest bead of sweat appears on the brow. The bank employees have sexy uniforms. Week days they wear gray suits with long slits in the skirts and high heels. Saturday is casual and they wear trim khakis and polo shirts.

Of course, then there are the other Nicas, more or less living in the street or in severely reduced circumstances. They aren't so clean sometimes. Skin covered in dust. Barefoot. Dull eyes. But everyone who can, really tries.

So I am going to try more. I want to look cool and collected. I'm going to carry a towel with me whereever I go; wash my face and comb my hair before I leave the house. Maybe carry an umbrella against the sun. I'm going to try to be more presentable.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tope de Toros in Granada- Not exactly Pamplona

Big excitement in Granada today. It was the Tope de Toros or the running of the bulls. I was at Iglesia Xalteva. People were crowded onto the wide space outside the church that was a few steps off the street. The walls of the park were already full of people who had been there for a while. It was indeed the safest place. I placed myself at the church entrance behind the railing with a bunch of other wimpy ladies. We waited about an hour or more. Every once in a while people would start running down the street and the crowd would surge. Half rushing toward the action and half running away. False alarm. When a bull finally did come, I didn’t notice because there had been so many false alarms. Whole families were sitting in trees.

The bulls are loaded into a livestock truck that drives down the route of the bulls and periodically lets one out. There are several national police officers sitting on top of the truck. When they let the bull out, it can go where ever it wants. Sometimes the bulls aren’t very energetic. This year, one actually lay down in the street. There is always about a hundred men and boys running as fast as they can ahead of it and about 20 drunk men taunting and slapping the bull. If the poor bulls aren’t agitated enough, they are tortured by the bull tenders and children who beat them with sticks and whip them with switches. The crowd shrieks with terror and delight when the bull turns, but it pretty much continues down the street.

The bomberos (firefighters) and national police are in full force and the ambulances are stationed near by. Everyone I know who lives here said they weren’t going because it was too dangerous. Someone got killed last year. An American who was trying to take a picture of the bull running toward him. But I really wanted to see it, because where else would the city government turn a truck load of bulls loose into crowds of people just out of civic pride and entertainment. It would be like bulls being let loose during Seafair.

There were lots of vendors selling stuff, but I forgot to bring money. After a couple hours of enjoying the crowd by myself, I carefully selected streets that I thought would not be likely to have drunk or bull traffic and went to the Central Park to meet Jonathan and the boys. They were sitting at a café on the patio of a hotel overlooking the square and they had a good view of the bulls as they ran into the park and were safely up away from the crowd and animals in the street.

Kids had already gone home, but I stood up on the chairs at the café to see the bulls as they came into the square which was full of people. The truck pulls up and lets a bull out onto the square. The crowd surges and runs and a wave of people come up the steps of the café. There is a bull off his rope and going through the square. He weaves through the soda stands and hot dog vendors and among the horses with their carriages. About 10 youths with tattoos and gelled hair slap the bull and hit it with sticks. Some older drunks wave handkerchiefs and run up and touch the bull. He turns toward where we are sitting in the café and heads right toward us. Of course I know I am safe, but I panic and cower on the table as the girls on the steps squeeze in. There is lots of screaming. The bull turns and heads toward Eurocafe. We’ve had enough, but we have to wait until it is safe to walk home.

When it seems that the bulls have cleared the square for a moment, we strategically start to walk along the hotel row home. Jonathan keeps me apprised of escape routes should a bull charge us. Every time the crowd comes toward us, I can’t help but run away, which is of course the worst thing to do. As we are going by the Pasos house on the square, the crowd is running ahead of a bull and we stop in the doorway with two maids in blue uniforms. The bull turns toward us, so we jump behind their door with them into the long cool passage to the house. After the bull passes we make our way home through the Plazuela de los Leones going from car to car and behind the statues in case the bulls head this way. They do and I panic and run to climb on top one of the cannons which drives Jonathan nuts. He is definitely more fight than flight. But not with a bull.

Walking back home, everyone is behind their gates watching the street, just in case a bull should wander that way. On our street, several neighbors have their chairs in front and are watching the crowd go by two streets down. We pull our rockers onto our sidewalk and watch. Several people on horse back but no bulls head down our street.

There are no pictures of the bulls because I was too scared to take them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Shopping in Catarina

On the road to Catarina we saw ox and horse cars piled with hay. Goats munching grass along the way. The volcano was green and misty on the top. The air cooled about 5 degrees as we climbed up the mountain. I saw a guy stop suddenly on his motorbike in his driveway and his two kids fell off, but his wife managed to hang on.

We were looking for plants, so we headed up to the Viveros Gallina, an ecological nursery and pulled into an oasis. We spent about an hour looking at plants and discussing their care and placement with the nursery lady. We came to one area where there were 4 inch long red and yellow grasshoppers chomping on the plants. She caught each one and threw it on the ground and then stomped on it. The car was full with 30 dollars worth of plants and it smelled heavenly. It was about a dollar a plant. Howler monkeys were in the trees throwing mangoes at us. As we were leaving I took a couple of pictures of grandma and the statue of the Archangel St. Michael she was decorating with flowers.

Driving out we passed a family making bamboo market baskets. We asked a lot of questions and bought 3 baskets for 7 dollars. They are about a yard in diameter.

Next stop over to San Juan del Oriente for some more planters. The woman I bought from last time wasn't there and I was getting a little huffy that the big planters that had cost 5 dollars last time were 6 today. Then I did a reality check and stopped myself. The car was stuffed to the gills and we could hardly fit the plant stands in. We were very thankful for the heavy rain when we got home so the neighbors didn't see all the things we were unloading. I was sorry Angel wasn't driving so that he would help us unload. I am officially getting spoiled.

As I am writing this, there was a big clunk and I am afraid to look on the ground to see if a bat flew into the ceiling fan.

Little League Parade

This morning around 8 I heard a bigger band than the usual mariachis you can hire to march and play anywhere you want so I went running down to Calzada to see what it was. Little League Parade! The kids were pretty young, but there must have been at least 10 teams. They all had complete uniforms and new gloves. There was a very hot drill team and a couple drum corps. Santa Claus was walking along the way with the mayor handing out candy and the snow cone guy pulled up the rear.

Shopping in Managua

Yesterday Jonathan and I decided to go to Managua with Angel when he picked up the kids to do some shopping. There are just a few things that really have to be looked for in the big city shopping malls and big box stores. First we wanted to go to Sinsa to get some house and hardware supplies. It is sort of like home depot, but smaller. Also there are about 5 of them within a 1 km radius, each with their own area of specialty. First we were at the hardware one, but we really needed things like pots and pans and laundry baskets. We went to the other one for the home. But it wasn’t the one we had been to before and only had a limited selection of housewares. We pile what we can into the cart. No cast iron frying pans. We wheel over to the check out. No, that isn’t the way it works. We are redirected to a customer service counter so that a store clerk can make a bill up for us. She hand types each SKU into a computer. Now the grocery store in Granada has scanners so I am mystified as to why the big box store in Managua doesn’t. Oh well. She takes a long time and we are in a hurry. Finally it seems she can’t find the number for the $1.50 paint brush (it says so on the price tag) and the $.85 pack of sponges. She begins to read through each item the store has on the computer to find it. Then she says, I’m sorry, you can’t buy it because it isn’t in the computer. But, we say, it is in the store. Sorry she says. Actually, she doesn’t say sorry. She just reiterates that it isn’t there even though the items are clearly there. In exasperation, I say, forget it, we won’t buy them.

We take everything else in our cart over to the checkout where they take our credit card and individually check off each item from the receipt as they but them into bags and staple them shut. I finally sign the slip. Holy shit, I think, 900 cords. That’s so much money. But really it’s not. It’s only about $45 and we got a ton of stuff. I am already adjusting to Nicaraguan prices. As we go out the door, the guard checks off our receipt.

Next stop is the Galerias Santo Domingo which one of the nicest malls in Managua. It’s like Northgate mall in Seattle if it only had Macy’s and a random assortment of clothing stores and the carts selling soap in the middle. First we go to the stationary store to look for the ever elusive lined loose leaf 3 ring binder paper. Oh so sorry, we haven’t had that in a long time. Then we go to Siman’s which is very expensive, but basically like the Bon. Trying to find a cast iron pan and cake pans. They only have sets of pans and cast aluminum frying pans. The cake pans are sold in weird sets ie one round cake pan and a square one with a muffin pan. But since I’m looking for either a rectangle or 2 round pans I pass on them. I pick out a set of red Kitchen-aid skillets. 65! Someone comes over and takes the skillets and the pyrex dish over to a sales counter and writes her commission number on the tag. I pick out a cutting board and add it to the pile. Another sales woman comes over and picks up my pile and directs me over to another cash register. She scratches out the other woman’s numbers and adds hers. They slowly ring us up (scanner) ask for my passport but get my drivers license, double check the receipt, put everything in plastic bags and secure them with those plastic ties that can only be removed with scissors and staple the receipt to the bag. We try to go to radio shack to look for alarm clocks because they didn’t have them at Siman, or Sinsa. It’s closed for inventory. Frustrating, because the one in Granada was closed for inventory last Saturday.

I check the sporting goods store for a gel bike seat for Jonathan’s anniversary present. No he says with a shake of his head. Anywhere else in Managua I ask? He tells me about a mountain bike store somewhere and describes where it is and keeps asking me if I know that place. Yes, yes I say even though it is clear to both of us that I don’t have a clue. I am too tired to slow down and ask again, so I just leave. This whole time, we have pretty much been the only customers in the entire mall.

It has started to rain very heavily so we wait in the parking garage for the rain to let up a bit and then we dash over the Hiper Colonia Supermarket. No alarm clocks, but we get bags of chocolate chips for 4 dollars a bag. We rush through to meet Angel and the kids. They pack our many plastic bags holding one or two items along with all of our other bags on the special wheel the bags to the car cart and the bagger in the cheery red colonia smock rolls our stuff out. We explain that we may have to wait as much as ten minutes and give him a tip so he can go back and carry someone elses bags out but he decides to wait with us. Jonathan decides to run back over to Siman’s to see if they have a step on garbage can because the cats are getting into ours at night. (No we don’t have cats.)

I run through my limited small talk with the bag boy so he makes a few cell phone calls. It starts to dump rain, blowing sideways over us even though we are under a roof. It is entertaining to watch all of the folks walk back in forth from their cars in the rain. The bag boys pull out umbrellas to walk people to their car. I watch a woman walk in with her maid who is wearing a black uniform and carrying the umbrella.

Kids haven’t shown up. It’s a really hard rain. Jonathan calls on the cell to say pick me up on the other side of the mall. I call Jules who has no idea where they are and didn’t know they were supposed to pick us up, but it is Noah’s fault that they are late. Jonathan runs over through the rain with a step on garbage can on sale for $40. Finally they show up and we cram into the back seat with Noah and Hobbes. Water is running like a river down the street as we drive home. It is so nice not to be driving.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Quince Años de Yelbita

We decided to walk because we felt uncomfortable pulling up in the big white SUV at Riccardo’s house. We set off, but weren’t exactly sure where it was. Jonathan had been there only once. We ended up lost in a part of town very near the house that we didn’t even know was there. People were poor, dirt streets, tiny houses, fewer and fewer women out walking. Several nicely renovated houses by the Spanish government. We thought we were heading back out of the barrio, but the road was turning ever so slightly and we would come against a cement wall. We asked several people where Riccardo’s house was, but no one knew them. We were warned about the drug dealers several times. We were dressed up and carrying a present. We found our way out and decide to go home, we almost bail at this point because it seems overwhelming. But we get the car and try once more. There it is not very far from our house. Jonathan didn't recognize the lane because there was a circus in the empty lot now. Still feel embarrassed about the car.

Nubia comes running out to greet us. Yelbita looks exactly like a Barbie doll in a hot pink strapless dress and long, long curly black hair and spiky sandals. Their house like one in India, bare cement room cleared out for the party, two tables, rented plastic chairs arranged around the wall and the door way framed by a pink balloon arch. We meet a lot of Riccardo's family. Little kids accidently popping their balloons on the barbed wire that separates their house from the street. The only person to come over and talk to us, or to move out of a plastic chair and talk to anybody for that matter is Myra, Riccardo's youngest sister. She tells me about her new baby and her two older boys 3 and 4 who I have already met. She is 21 and incredibly beautiful. She asks if I want to see the new baby. Next door her other sister is nursing a bigger baby and Myra goes and gets her 21 day old baby from a relative. Precious bundle, she lets me hold her. She doesn't have a name yet because they want to pick the right one.

We go next door and the formal festivities start. A preacher reads a verse from the Numbers. They are all Pentacostals, like my relatives, and there is alot of swaying and murmelling prayers. Yelbita is presented to those assembled and everyone takes a picture with her. Miguel tells us about his education. He had to quit school and work because there wasn't enough money, but his sisters stayed until university and has a good job now. He told us about the drug dealers in the neighborhood. There is some tension at the party between the delicuentes and the church folks. Jonathan dumps his food on his lap when he kisses the beautiful Myra good bye. We eat the same cake as every celebration in Granada. Young folks start dancing and a cousin forces me to dance. I stumble along and quickly exit. I feel so uncoordinated. Nubia walks us out holding on to my arm so we won’t get lost. She thinks we disappove of the dancing. I felt like an honored guest, I got to pick my party favor first – little pink cake topper. Jonathan picked a basket of kittens. Our house seemed so huge when we got back. Now I realized why Nubia didn't want to have the party at our house as planned.