Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur

We decided to stay in Granada instead of going out to Carlos’ for Kol Nidre. I printed out the music for Noah to play on his clarinet. I was going to make chicken and rice, but then I got behind and said, Why make chicken and rice when I can get it already made from Chico Tripa for about 60 Cords a person? So Jonathan and Avi went to get us chicken while I set the table. We had a nice meal on banana leaves as the sun was setting, guzzling water to prepare for the fast.

Noah played Kol Nidre on his clarinet, which brought tears to my eyes. Then we tried to sing it twice, but it was hard to keep the tune and I really missed Wendy’s voice coming from the back of the synagogue with the lights out. Then we watched Moishe Oysher sing Kol Nidre in the 1939 Yiddish film "Overture To Glory" (Der Vilner Shtot Khazn "The Vilnius City Cantor”). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vkpsFwsQY4

We spent a quiet day at home; there was some reflection. For me, Yom Kippur is a day to be free from the demands of the body; to live for one day on a less material plane. I wondered out to the Cathedral thinking it would be a nice quiet place to sit, but they were having a pre recorded pop music mass in the chapel and it didn’t feel right. I missed Rabbi Beth in her new white tennies. I missed sitting in services with my family and friends. I missed being one of many. I really missed going to Bruce’s to break the fast and eating all that yummy food.

We broke the fast with bagels and dairy kugel. Avi came over after teaching. He mused that it was the first time he had ever done anything regular on Yom Kippur and it felt weird, but it was too hard to shift his classes for that day. The boys got ready for school. Noah wrote an essay about his Jewish name for school. In it, he said he liked being different, but he felt he was just part of one big Jewish pool. Just another drop of Jew, he said.

Party Time

Jules went to his first party Friday night. He was invited to a school mates Quince Años. I only found out about the party a few days before and I was a little scared by the words traje cocktail. I asked my guide in all things Nicaraguan, my friend Thelma, and she said Long sleeved shirt, tie, dress pants and nice shoes. Jules' research at school confirmed the dress code. Well, Jules has a pair of black chinos and that is it. It somehow hadn't occurred to me that he would need dress shoes in Nicaragua. After all, on all other trips to the country, he just took a pair of sandals and a pair of sneakers. I thought I was showing great foresight when I brought two pairs of running shoes for him. I hadn't anticipated the dress requirements of attending a private school in Managua.

My first stop was the used clothing store in Granada. It is like value village but in an open courtyard. I was hoping some big boned swede had donated some large dress shoes before he took off. No luck. I would need to go to Managua. Fortunately, Thelma needed to make some deliveries so she went with me. We stopped at a couple of stores and asked what was the biggest shoe size they had - only 11. With time running out, Thelma got on the phone and called her uncle - Tio, where is the best store to find size 14 shoes? He said, Your best bet is Lumesa, the one at Plaza Inter. Excellent advice, they had one pair of size fourteen shoes and they were acceptable. 32 bucks.

For the party, Jules wore a shirt of Jonathan's and a tie from Laurence and Hobbes wore Jules' bar mitzvah shirt. They looked very handsome. Angel drove and I told the boys to leave around 11 so Angel could get some sleep, but Angel said, its up to them they can leave whenever they want. I called Jules around midnight and he said he was just leaving. We waited up.

Thelma and I compared notes as each of our sons reported on the other one. Seems a good time was had by all. I just stopped by Jules' room on my way to bed and there is another invitation; this one with the ominous phrase - traje formal!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Services and the Virgen de Rosh Hashaná

Carlos has a finca in Nindiri that is a sort of Jewish Cultural Center for a diverse group of Jews in Nicaragua. When we first started coming to Nicaragua, I was astonished to learn that the Jewish community only numbers about 50 in the whole country, especially when I seemed to have met at least that many. There are a few remaining families of the original Sefardim that came to Nicaragua and a few other folks who have moved to Nicaragua from more Jewish places – like New York. This Rosh Hashana, Carlos hosted services on Sunday morning. We showed up about 15 minutes late and he greeted us saying how old are yours sons? 14 and 16, I said. Great, 3 more we have a minyan, we can get started. Guess who he wasn’t counted in the minyan? That’s right me. And he doesn't even know that I converted. I got a little huffy to myself, but I am a visitor here and I cannot impose my cultural values.

But of course we didn’t get started. We sat around for about two hours I think. We were waiting for Judith with the prayer books. One person left, exasperated with the waiting.

We gathered in the farmhouse sala with a lectern for a bimah and a wardrobe for an aron kodesh. Carlos started out the prayers, very fast. The melodies, such that they were, were completely different. Some of the prayers were different, too. Eventually, Judith showed up with the prayer books. We were sitting in the front, so Carlos first invited Jules to read some of the English. All the prayers were in Hebrew, Spanish and English and I can assure you that in all three languages, the Mothers weren’t mentioned and Adonai was king. Then Carlos had Noah come up and read a prayer he knew. Which he did, but it was confusing because it was out of Carlos’ orthodox prayerbook and Jonathan came up and helped him with the Ashkenazic tune. At that point, being on familiar ground, several of the US contingent chimed in. For the Torah reading, Carlos had the President of the Jewish community open the wardrobe and he removed a teeny tiny torah. It was like one of those they give kids when they start studying torah, but this was a whole one. It was dressed in a white satin cover for the holiday with maribou fringe and bells.

The torah was opened and random folks were called up for aliyot. The first one Paul, stammered when Carlos asked him to announce his donation from the bimah. Carlos claims it is a Sephardic tradition. We said, in the States, we do that quietly behind closed doors. Carlos read the first section of the parsha, then he called Jules for an aliya. Jules couldn’t remember his Hebrew name, but he sang the blessing and gamely read the first few lines phonetically. Then Avi took over. Avi, our Granada Peace Corps teacher, obviously had a much more extensive religious education because he knows the tropes and sings them beautifully. After that, Avi read the rest of the parsha. Noah was really impressed afterward and said, I can’t believe Avi could read the whole Torah. I said, you could too if you put some time into it. I even bet Avi would teach you. Then when you grow up and walk into a congregation anywhere in the world, you could do the same thing. Nah, he said, it’s not really worth all the work.

Then the teeny, tiny Torah was lifted high in the air by one of the visitors from Guatemala, and Avi got to sit and hold it. Then Noah was called up to read the Haftorah. He did the blessing and then sounded out a few lines before Carlos took over again. Carlos included everyone, people were reading in English and Spanish and Hebrew; it didn’t matter. For the shofar service, Kurt, the owner of a big reptile leather plant, blew the commanded blasts. When Carlos got to the part of the service where you bless the president of the secular government, he was truly pained. He felt commanded to bless Ortega but every fiber of his being resisted it. He read the prayer quickly and told us to take it for what it was worth. Someone quoted Fiddler on the Roof – bless and keep him far away from us. (Blessing for the czar).

For the Tekiah Gedolah, Jonathan used the shofar Noah had brought with him from home and blew a long, low call. He turned red. Kurt couldn’t believe that Jonathan’s tekiah outlasted his, so he tried to beat it on Noah’s shofar. Couldn’t do it.

After the service, we gathered in the shady garden of the finca and had round challah, honey and apples and potluck. Here's Thelma looking glamorous and kind of bored. Thanks Thelma for the pictures of the boys in services!

When we got back home the kids settled in to do their homework. I heard a band coming down the street, so I pulled my rocking chair out on the sidewalk to watch the Virgin of Guadalupe being carried down our street. She had a good band backing her up, so I followed her to the church. The Virgin bearers stopped in front of a house and a store to bring the Virgin to the door. I asked someone why she stopped at certain houses and they said, the people order her to come by their house and the church sends her out to raise money. The band accompanied her all the way into the church where she was put in the front and some old ladies fussed with her flowers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Erev Rosh Hoshana

Thursday Angel drove me out to La Colonia – the supermarket where they have all of the imported stuff – to start my holiday shopping. Erev Rosh Hoshana is Friday and we had an ever increasing number of people coming over for Shabbat dinner. I was looking for brisket, whole chickens, wine, apples and flat noodles. I picked the piece of beef that looked most like brisket, but all the fresh chickens were cut up. And I’m afraid this grocery store was lacking in that aisle where they have the manishewitz noodles and yahrzeit candles. We’re going to have kugel made with Fettacini. The apples are all from Washington and I’m pretty sure they aren’t the new crop. At the grocery store, someone came running over to unload my items on the cart, bag them and take them out to the car. These are eggs he said as he passed the bag to Angel who arranged all the bags in the car.

On the way home, we stopped at the bank to get some money for Angel to buy some medicine for his wife. I do totally trust him, but I was still glad to see the actual medicine receipts. Aren’t the Sandinista passing out free medicine yet?

Angel carried everything into the house where Moni was getting dinner ready. She agreed to work double tomorrow instead of Saturday to help me get ready. This will be my first holiday prep in my own home with servants. Moni listened to Jonathan and I argue about how we make the brisket and then we told her to just go ahead and make it her way. After she left, I snuck in a few of my favorite items into the sauce.

Friday morning I headed to the market to find my chickens and fresh items. I had to ask around a lot for the Carniceria (butcher) San Martin. I usually avoid the fresh meat section of the market because all those pieces of animals hanging over the counters makes me feel a little sick. And it smells. But I figured they would know who to find the butcher. I went in circles because I kept getting directed to the Plastics San Martin where they have all those little buckets instead of the butcher, but I finally found it.

I stood in the crowd and eventually made it to the front and asked for three whole chickens. Most people were getting a little bit of this or that in a small bag. The workers are all wearing bright green floppy caps with little masks made from the same fabric. Two older ladies are in charge of the till. My three chickens were also frozen. When I got home and told Moni how disappointed I was that I couldn’t get whole fresh chickens, she rolled her eyes and said, There isn’t much of a market for whole chickens here. But they weren’t that expensive, I said, only about 20 cords ($1) a pound. Well, people here buy want to buy chicken for 18 or 19 cordovas and they only want one pound she said.

I bought guava to dip in the honey I brought home from the mountains. I made chocolate chip challah and honey cake and kugel. Sylvia came to teach Spanish, but I was too busy. We kneaded the challah and Fabiola made a small one to take home. The challah I make here expands to gigantic proportions, but it tastes good.

Even though Cristina stayed late and Moni came early and stayed late, I still wasn’t ready on time, just like at home. It was sure great to have someone else cleaning up after me! Thankfully, everyone was late.

Avi came with 4 other Peace Corps members – Katie from Nidiri, Adam from way far away in the Rio San Juan and Max (not technically peace corps, but of that ilk) from Honduras. We started off with rum and cokes (for a sweet new year!) Laurence called to say they would be late because Zoey was somewhere in Managua, but they weren’t sure where. Lucia, Eugenia, Moise and Omar joined us, but Silvia had to stay at home and take care of her dad because her mom was at the hospital with her grandmother.

We sat down at a long table, just like at home and I admit I had goosebumps as we started the blessings and everyone joined in. We translated for the non English speakers and explained as best we could. It was, of course, the first time the Lopez-Rodriguez family had ever been part of a Jewish celebration. We went around the table and said our thanks for something sweet. I was so proud of Jules because he said his part in Spanish. I love the way he just goes for it with the few words he has.

The wine flowed, well except for the Nicaraguans who took a sip and politely switched to beer or soda. Talk turned to politics and comparing the situation in different parts of Central America. Lucia was in her element sharing her political views with everyone. The young folks were idealistic and engaged, but at the same time critical and realistic of what is going on around them. The North American contingent had an impressive command of Spanish and more importantly, the gumption to throw themselves into the conversation, whether they had the right words or not.

Moni stayed late to do the most of the dishes and then left while we sat longer around the table talking. It was actually just like at home. While I missed my dear friends and family we usually share the holiday with, it was fun to recreate the table in another country and gather in the tribe and share our celebration. Push the tables together and fill them with food and something good usually comes out of it.

L’shaná tová.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Next Pig Business Installment or 3 Jews watch pig slaughter

If you are veg, you can skip this one.

Last night we were sitting around having dinner with Avi, one of the Granada Peace Corps volunteers and I looked at my watch and said, hey you guys, Silvia told me we can come watch them slaughter pigs tonight and they are starting early. Avi said, Yeah that sounds like fun, and Jonathan said, I’d kind of like to see that. So we hopped on the bikes and rode over to Silvia and Lucia’s house. Now Silvia told me that would start getting ready at 8 and then the actual slaughtering would be around 9. Neither Jonathan nor Avi wanted to stay up that late, so we were hoping to show up watch some of the prep, see them kill and cut up the animal and be back at home by 10.

All multi generations of the Rodriguez-Lopez clan were glad to see us and happy to get to know Avi. He teaches in a school close by so they had some mutual acquaintances. We sat around and chatted for a while. Lucia showed us the new freezer and we enjoyed some Fanta Roja with ice provided by it. We met the matador, Don Jose Andre who has been slaughtering pigs for forty years. We said, why do you slaughter pigs in the middle of the night? Both Lucia and Don Jose said, because that’s when its done. Don Jose admitted that he had occasionally killed a pig during the day, but only if it was like for a fiesta or something. He charges 200 cords (10 bucks) for the first pig and 100 more for each additional one and his services include traveling to the farm to select the pig, killing it, cleaning it and cutting it up in pieces. He usually does about 7 pigs a night.

I wondered over to the cookhouse and noticed that there was no fire under the kettle yet. I asked when they were going to start the water and Silvia went to get the kettle. Don Jose ran his finger over the edge and said, this won’t do, so Silvia went to wash it. They filled it up and started the fire. Well you know what they say about a watched pot, and this one was very big.

Now I am ashamed to admit that even though I eat meat, I have never seen an animal killed for food, except maybe a fish. I was afraid I would fainting. Silvia and Lucia thought that was pretty funny. I was really nervous about it, but at the same time, I was awfully curious. I felt it was my duty as a meat eater to watch. Plus Silvia and Lucia really wanted pictures.

Silvia put up a sheet and some plastic bags on the clothes line so that the neighbors wouldn’t see. It is technically ok to kill a pig at home, but there is some gray area about multiple pigs. They were doing two tonight. I visited the animals which were tied to a bush and sleeping comfortably. When the water started to boil, Rodolfo went down the bank and pulled the first pig up to the killing floor. The pig was screaming. He had gotten caught in his rope halter and was very uncomfortable. He didn’t want to come up. But Rodolfo pulled really hard. Then Don Jose, who weighs maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet grabbed the rope and wrestled the pig to the ground. It calmed down immediately. He picked up his ax and gave it 3 quick blows to the head with the back of the ax. He took his knife and slit the pig’s throat and collected all the blood pouring out in a metal mixing bowl. The pigs legs twitched in the air and then it was completely still while Rudy and Don Jose leaned on it with their knees to push the blood out. It was about 4 big bowls full. Pigs blood is essential for a Granada delicacy whose name I forgot and Lucia will be able to sell it.

Ramon pulled the other pig up who was squealing too but not as much. Pig #2 sniffed the dead pig and became very still. Then Don Jose whacked him with the back of the ax and he soon joined the other pig on the floor. Now that the pigs were dead and not screaming, we all came out of the doorway where we had been cowering to watch the rest of the work. We settled down on the chairs that were ringing the cement pad it is outside between the living room and the cook house where they do the pig work. I would have felt stupid sitting and watching if it hadn’t been for the fact that many other family members were sitting and watching. Basically, Don Jose did everything amazingly efficiently with just a little help with the heavy lifting.

The next step was the one that took the longest. Don Jose dipped boiling water over the carcasses and rubbed and scraped the bristles and outer layer of skin off. It was hypnotic to watch. I could have sat there all night, actually I already had. As he worked on the pigs they transformed from dead bodies to beautiful gleaming objects that had the form of pigs. I thought about time in Nicaragua. No one is ever in a hurry. Everyone works really long hours, but there is very little rushing. I have noticed that my attention span is short compared to the Nicaraguans. People always show up on time, but things rarely start on time. It was much like waiting for the parade. No one said, I can’t believe the parade started 5 hours late, they just said, I got tired of waiting so I left.

The matador had to stop twice to heat up another kettle of water. He had a cigarette and coffee and joked around with Lucia while the water heated. Avi’s girlfriend called and he said, I can’t talk now, I’m watching a pig get slaughtered. He promised to call when it was done – 15 minutes or so. But it wasn’t done. We wanted to wait to see the pig cut up, but the church bells were striking 11 and another pot of water was just put on the fire. Don Jose said in disbelief, 11 already?

We stayed to see them hoist the pig by his tendons up on the beam, but by 11:30 we had to leave so that we could get to bed. Jorge was still up, but Fabiola had fallen asleep in her grandmother’s arms in the rocking chair. It was Silvia and Eugenia’s turn to stay up with the Don Jose while he cut up the pig. The rest of the family was going to get a little sleep before they start the deliveries at 4:30 in the morning.

We rode home through the empty streets. Only a few taxis, drunks and sleeping glue sniffers were out. The market was clean and quiet when we rode through it.

Back in Granada

Transitions are always hard. Jules seems to have left a shoe up North in the mountains, which would be no big deal except that size 15 running shoes are rather hard to find in Nicaragua. He was upset and surly this morning when he discovered it missing as he was trying to get out the door to school at 6 am. He exchanged some harsh words with his father about why he had to come to this ***** country and get up at 5:30 every morning.

Noah came home practically in tears because he had left his clarinet at school. He discovered it 40 minutes into the ride home so they didn’t turn around. Angel asked if he was sick, I said, no he forgot his clarinet at school. Oh is that what is in that little suitcase he is always carrying with him? Then Angel looked at me really hard, concentrating on what I might be trying to ask him. Where do you pick up the boys at school I (thought I) asked. Complete incomprehension in his eyes. He really doesn’t want to tell me he doesn’t understand, but I have botched it so badly, he can’t make any sense out of it. Where do the boys wait for you? Although I think it was more like “to where waiting the children.” Huge look of relief on his face as he explains to me where he usually gets the boys.

Both boys flopped on their beds Noah to his homework and Jules to his computer. I called the school and Noah’s clarinet has been located and is waiting for him in the middle school office. Jules was glad to hear I had bought an extra pair of sneakers and we had a nice little chat about whether Jonathan’s business should accept money from the gold miners. Noah and I sat across the table from each other and with Tignieu’s Pan de Coco and a pound of La Garnacha goat cheese between us. All’s right with the world again. These are pictures of Tignieu and his oven.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Weekend Trip Day Three – Jinotega

The kids didn’t want to waste the four day weekend on vacation, so we decided to go home to Granada so they could do their homework and relax. Another beautiful drive through the mountains. This time the road was smooth and new from Concordia to Jinotega. We forgot that it was parade day – for real this time – throughout all of Nicaragua for the holiday celebrating the Battle of San Jacinto and Independence Day. The Parades were just finishing up as we got to both Concordia and Jinotega, but it was still hard to maneuver the car through flag girls, drummers and number one students leaving the square.

Jonathan picked up his last hitch hiker and learned an important lesson. Don’t pick up single guys on a holiday because they could be drunk. We let him off in Jinotega and Jonathan gave him bus fare to get to Matagalpa. The kids made him promise not to make them sit in the back with a drunk again. We saw him standing by the exit out of town with his thumb out. He waved. I doubt he is using the bus fare to feed his children.

Happy to be home in Granada, we went to Monna Lisa’s Pizza for dinner and laughed about the glum German tourists we met in Miraflor. They complained that they couldn’t find the waterfall and that the orchid farm was full of garbage. The coffee museum was closed (it WAS a national holiday). They asked us about Granada. They were afraid it would be like Disneyland because they had heard it was touristy. Yeah, like Disneyland with open drains, garbage strewn all over and glue sniffers asleep on your door step.

Weekend Trip Day Two – Miraflor Reserve

After breakfast in Estelí and a quick trip to Pali to get some picnic food, we drove up to the Miraflor Reserve east of Estelí. Another windy, washed out mountain road, but not too bad. We are so happy with our Toyota RAV 4. We only had to ford a few streams and none of them were very deep. This is one upside to the drought. Gentle hills grew steeper as we drove into the reserve. We gave a ride to the lady that brings lunch to the police officers in the tiny hut on the border of the reserve. She arrived right at noon. We were probably only a little faster than the bus.

All the maps of Miraflor have a visitor’s center marked on them, but there isn’t any. The reserve is made up of a group of farmers who work cooperatively to sell their products and market their countryside as a tourist destination. Thirty some years ago, these mountains were home to Sandinista guerrillas fighting for the revolution and then Contras trying to get a foothold. The Sandinista government awarded land parcels to campesinos and in ten years there were productive farms mixed in the forests. Then the community realized that they could protect the natural beauty of their area and increase their income through tourist dollars. In 1990 they voluntarily joined together to form the reserve. A few farmers have built small guest houses on their properties and offer the basics of a bed and meals to travelers, most of whom are the backpackers touring Central America.

We hiked down the mountain a bit to the waterfall. We didn't feel like jumping all the way in, but the males in the family stuck their heads in all together. We had to ask about 5 times how to get to the waterfall and we were hiking through peoples backyards, but we found it! A caretaker lived with his family by the waterfall. It costs 5 cordovas each to visit, but Jonathan and I both forgot to bring money. Fortunately, Jules had his wallet. Unfortunately, he only had a 100. They went to look for change, but we said just keep it. I am pretty sure we were the only people to visit all day, maybe all week.

We stayed at Finca Neblina del Bosque, the next wave of eco-tourism in the Miraflor. Eduardo and Isabel are a young couple with an adorable baby who have put in two very hard years of work to turn their piece of land into a sustainable organic farm with (relatively) luxurious cabins. Cute bamboo cabins with real beds! Down comforters for the chilly nights! And most impressively, hot solar heated water in the shower IN THE MORNING!

The best part of the farm though was the incredible energy and vision of Eduardo and Isabel who are committed to producing all of the food they need on their own land with support from their neighbors. They have a beautiful garden where Eduardo was weeding with one year old Nemo in the morning. Chickens eat the caterpillars. Coffee grows in the shade of their plantain trees and they are looking forward to their first harvest this year. The food was yummy and even though you can’t sell liquor in the reserve, we had some beers.

The paths are lined with sunflowers and the house and cabins are surrounded by hibiscus and other butterfly and hummingbird friendly flowers. I came back with all too many close-ups of flowers and butterflies, but I was trying to get a picture of one of each variety.