Monday, November 30, 2009

La Purisima

Purisima is Dec. 8 but the nine days leading up to it is a time of celebration in Granada. People are busy painting their houses and cleaning up the street for the day La Conchita (Virgen de la Concepcion) is paraded through their neighborhood. The first night, La Conchita is just taken through the streets around the central square and returned to the Cathedral to sleep. The rest of the days, she leaves the cathedral in the morning at 5 and proceeds to a different church for the day. At night, a procession brings her back.

Saturday night I headed out when I heard the church bells for the evening mass. The priest was just walking in with the sensor and the firefighters were beginning to put together the float for the Virgen. I figured I had enough time to go home and make dinner, eat it and wash the dishes (Moni was off that night) and I did. I went running back out when the bells were ringing wildly and caught up with her as she headed down the first side of the park. A brass band was playing and the firefighters bore her massive wooden palanquin on their shoulders. It was bedecked with lights and flowers and someone wheeled a generator behind her to power the lights. The wind rippled her blue cloak and ruffled the feathers in the angels’ wings. The street was clogged with people waiting and she proceeded very slowly with two police trucks with their sirens blaring slowly parting the people. I was able to catch her on each side of the park, staying on the inside and crossing over when she got to the other side. You cannot help but be pulled along in the crowd. You just relax and let it take you where it goes. People standing on the sides break into applause when she appears. Old men and women cross themselves.

She comes back to the cathedral amid the boom of firecrackers and bursts of fireworks in the sky. The faithful follow her into the cathedral where the priest leads a rousing chorus of cheers. Quien causa tanta alegría? La Concepcíon de María! María de Nicaragua! Vive Maria! Vive Nicaragua! People are whipping themselves into a frenzy waving their towels and hankies and shouting out for Maria. It’s a party scene. People are coming and going, taking pictures, pushing strollers in the cathedral. The band and firefighters bring her back and settle her into her sleeping spot.

Five o’clock in the morning on Sunday, she headed out again. I know because there were a lot of bells and firecrackers and a car driving around with a loud speaker making sure everyone knew that she would be leaving at 5 am and coming home at 6 every night for the next week. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

When I was at the cathedral, I noticed a little sign with their new website! Of course, I tried to find out Conchita’s scheduled routes, but I couldn’t find the website online. I just asked a neighbor instead. Last night she went through the market, but I didn’t go watch. I heard the bells ringing loudly when she arrived home around 9:00.

I just found out that the Purisima is celebrating the immaculate conception of Mary, not Jesus. I had no idea La Virgen's mother was a virgin too!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Best Beach Yet

A few months ago we met a French guy about our age who was traveling around Nica

ragua with his daughter. We asked them what they had liked best and he said, “Jiquilillo.” I’ve been wanting to go up there purely based on his recomme

ndation. With the Thanksgiving holiday giving us enough extra travel time to deal with the four hour drive, we booked our bungalow at Monty’s Surf Camp and Hotel and headed up.

Beautiful long beach ending in the Padre Ramos Nature Reserve. We ran to the end of beach, but never got around to exploring the estuary with the canoes. Jiquilillo is a small fishing village and we watched the fishing boats go in and out

. When the boats came in, the whole family would help roll it up to shore and wait for their share of the fish. Toddlers took off home with a fish in a bucket.

Elving cooked us delicious fresh fish lunch and dinner. Rosa the pig wondered through the dining area. Paloma the beagle mix accompanied us on our runs. Her pup nipped at our heels when we ran in the surf. The boys boogie boarded. We bought a bottle of rum that more than lasted the weekend. No computers. Tons of sun.

The firefighters of Kamloops, BC have sort of adopted Jiquilillo and they all come down in December to work on things and bring donations to the health center they support. Seventeen of them have leases on lots on the beach and as long as they keep paying their taxes, they have rights to use and develop the land. In the whole town and beach there are maybe 6 new structures including 2 hostels and Monty’s, but their thatched roofs just blend into the homes of the fisher families and palm trees.


I look forward to this sandwich all year. The day after Thanksgiving, I along with most other folks in the US, always have a turkey sandwich for lunch. Roasted turkey, stuffing baked in the bird, cranberry sauce on whole wheat bread. Sometimes, there isn’t enough stuffing left and the sandwich is just not as satisfying without it. You can of course buy a turkey sandwich with the Thanksgiving trimmings any day of the year in Seattle at Bakeman’s. It is not the same.

We had plenty of leftovers from our impromptu Thanksgiving feast. I sent a lot home with Moni, but I was careful to save enough for the sandwiches. I made us each a fat sandwich to eat on the way to the beach. Leon, founded the same year as Granada and her rival in politics and colonial architecture, was on the way. We drove to the central square and parked in front of the police station. We found a bench among the snow cone and hot dog carts and had our picnic overlooking the lion fountain in front of the basilica.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Plans

We were going to just skip Thanksgiving. The plan is to take advantage of the two days the kids have off from their American school for the holiday to explore a little more. The rest of the school kids in Nicaragua are starting two and a half months of vacation, but I am hoping that my sons don’t notice. We made reservations in Jicillio for Thursday and Friday night so that we could be back here for a day of rest and catch the first night when the Virgen leaves the Cathedral for Purrisima.

But as I checked in with friends back home talking about children coming home, making big dinners, trying new recipes, I started to have these moments of longing. The vision of rain pouring down, windows steaming up with cooking, welcoming travelers produced an immediate compression in my chest and made my eyes sting. After days of deflecting these sensations and concentrating on the wonders at hand, I decided to make a little Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday night before we go to the beach. I invited my Chilean/Danish neighbors over. I went to Price Club and bought a butterball. Now I would never eat a butterball in the states, but I haven’t been able to find a fresh Chompipe (Nicaraguan Turkey) here. Everyone says, “Oh yeah, you used to be able to get those, now people just raise them themselves in their own house.”

I was discussing fresh poultry and bemoaning my lack of access to it with Moni (a frequent topic of discussion between us). She told me families usually raise their own chickens for Christmas dinner or buy them live from the market and slaughter them at home. She said, “If you don’t like killing and cleaning them, I can do it for you.” I convulsed with laughter. As if killing and cleaning chickens was just one more domestic task I could now afford to hire out. But of course I must have done it before when I didn’t have any paid help. I tried to explain to Moni that I am the second generation in my family that has never killed anything to eat. So now I am on the look out for a hermosa (a word I used to think meant pretty but actually means plump here) chicken or turkey to bring home to Moni.

As for tomorrow’s menu, in addition to the butterball, apple pie, mashed potatoes, salad and rolls. Moni will be here all day to help.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


We were already in a state of heightened anxiety over the marches planned for Saturday, and then Thursday night we got this from the embassy:

“The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate into violence. American citizens are therefore urged to exercise caution. Activities observed during past demonstrations include, but are not limited to the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, firing of improvised projectile launchers ("morteros,") rock-throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus/vehicle burning, and other types of physical violence between law enforcement and protestors or between rival political factions.”

The kids had plans to go to the movies after school at the mall right by ground zero of the protest and we decided not to be paranoid and told them they could go ahead with their plans. But then at 11:00, the Chief of the National Police announced that they were going to clear out the Sandinistas (their own party) out of the rotundas by force if necessary. Sometime Friday afternoon. I called Thelma in Miami to see what she thought. We agreed movie viewing was not a good idea. I called the kids to tell them that they needed to come right home, but could move the party to our house. Since Hobbes (Thelma’s son who was staying with us for the week) thinks I overreact, I was really gratified when he told me his great grandmother had called him at school to say, “You aren’t still thinking of going to the movies are you.”

Hobbes brought his friend over here and I was really happy to have my family gathered around me at the Shabbat dinner table instead of worrying about them in Managua. They cleared the rotunda out at 7:00, but it was quite peaceful.

In fact, despite all of the threats and posturing before the marches, both went off “without incident.” Thousands of citizens united for democracy in Nicaragua protested the fraud of the last election, the establishment of the dictatorship, the abuse of the constitution, state sanctioned violence against the opposition and Daniel Ortega and his families personal abuses of power. They stretched out over a mile long, wearing Nicaruagua’s blue and white, carrying copies of the constitution, photos of their heroes – Sandino, Camillo Ortega (the good brother) and other revolutionary matyrs and Alexis Arguello, the Sandinista mayor that is widely believed to have been assassinated for starting to talk about the election last year. There would have been a lot more people if they hadn’t been afraid for their lives and if they had had access to the resources the Ortegistas did. The police had a very strong presence.

The Sandinistas filled municipal buses from all parts of the country and brought them to Managua, leaving no public transportation for the opposition. The marched to celebrate last years election “victory” and upcoming anticipated election victory. Masked youth shooting homemade mortars started out the march while some official explained it on TV as a folk custom. Red and White was everywhere. The masks are pretty funny because these are people who belong to the dominate party that has absolute control. They have no need to hide their identity.

Everyone is very relieved there were no major incidents. Sandinistas shot mortars at departing buses of the opposition, but no major injuries. Daniel replaced the Head of the Army. More wacky antics from Rosaria who tooled around the celebration of the people in her Mercedes Benz.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where has all the production gone?

I went to pick up my made to order linen wear from Marisol embroidery. The dress is really sweet and fits perfectly. The blouse was almost done when I arrived; they had to do the embroidery, but they did that while I went to buy a purse at the market. I was talking to the daughter of the family business and I asked where the fabric comes from. She said the 100% linen and cotton fabric is made in Guatemala or El Salvador. Some people use fabric from China, but not us, only Central America. She said, we used to get fabric from Nicaragua, but they don't grow any cotton anymore, there is no linen. Since the 80's. She was wearing a beautiful blouse made of cotton home spun cotton. This blouse she said, was made with fabric they used to make in Granada. I'm really careful with it because it is from the last of that fabric.

There are rows of abandoned factories outside of many towns here. Granada's are lined up along the cemetery road to Catarina. Many of them closed very recently. After the last election. I know this is the story everywhere; change happens. There is no textile business in the US anymore. But here all that was lost has been replaced with nothing at all. For some reason, the shuttering of the little cotton factory breaks my heart.

Flu Week

Jules suddenly announced last week that he thought he had a fever and sure enough, he did. Figuring it was probably H1N1 because he wasn’t sick enough for it to be dengue, we quarantined him in his room and kept the soup and tea coming. I wasn’t worried about him so much as Cristina and Moni, our pregnant maid and cook, who are at a higher risk of complications than the general public. I told them to stay away from him and his room. As our house is open, I figured they weren’t really in danger working in other parts of the house, but I gave them the option to stay home. That really mystified them. But he’s not very sick they said. Yes, but it most likely is H1N1. Well he doesn’t seem that sick to me! I tried to explain the pregnancy thing, but they thought I was overreacting. They also didn’t understand why I didn’t take him to the doctor. Nicaraguans always go to the doctor whenever they are sick and get a shot. But if it wasn’t H1N1 I didn’t want to take Jules to the germ ridden environment of the local clinic. He also wasn’t sick enough to warrant driving into Managua to the good clinic.

Fever came back in two days, but Deb said that wasn’t a relapse, it was just the course of the fever. He stayed home two more days. Then after a day free of fever, I sent him to school for two days. Friday school was cancelled due to the H1N1 outbreak so they could clean the school. It seems they are about a half a year behind the states. The note said to keep the kids home and monitor them for symptoms, but of course my children along with most of the other kids at their school went to the movies.

I actually think it is all over Granada but everyone is so convinced it is a serious flu and no one thinks they have it. It is also not at all unusual be having a casual conversation with someone, say someone who is handing you some food in a store for instance, and say, how are you? Oh, they say, I’m so sick, I feel terrible, I’ve got a fever and chills and this horrible cough. as they pull out a dirty towel and hack into it.

Everyone throughout Granada is sick, but they all say it is a different virus. Or the change in temperature. Meanwhile, in the US, they are saying that most of the colds and flu going around are H1N1. After another conversation yesterday where I tried to convince someone they should be careful but they totally didn’t listen to me, I am done. I will now be a respectful visitor and not try to force my way of thinking on people.

When the kids went back to school on Monday, they reported that few kids were out of school. Maybe the closure was effective.

Cristina had her baby on last Friday, everyone is fine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Check in

We have been here four months now and I can definitely feel myself changing from a visitor to a resident. Everything is still wonderful and all, but for instance now I am just as happy to send Moni to the market and skip the pleasures of its sights and smells. I shout no gracias at people who come to the door selling things. I used to go all the way downstairs, have a pleasant conversation, get them a glass of water and more often than not, buy whatever it is they had to sell. I let fewer children in to swim in the pool. I balk at anything that costs 200 cords, even after I remind myself it is just 10 bucks. I stay in during the heat of the day. I am sometimes tired of beans and rice.

I still always see something that seems so odd each time I walk out my door. The other day I saw a woman walking down the street holding a small shrub over her head like an umbrella to walk in the sun.


It is getting dark earlier, around 5:30, but it is oh so different than the shortening days are in Seattle. Our balcony looks out over red tile roofs toward the central square. We can see the Mombacho volcano to the South. I have promised myself that I will pause and take a few moments to enjoy the sunset whenever I am home because even though there are still many days left, it is still a finite number. After the sun sinks behind the cathedral domes, my neighbor’s mango trees fill with birds. Right now there are enormous numbers of these scissor tailed swifts that are called tijeretas swooping around. Probably because of the large number of mosquitoes and gnats. They fill the sky for a few moments and then settle into trees all at once and you can hardly see them. Then a wind comes or a firecracker goes off and they become a cloud on the wind currents. Smaller flocks of little green parrots, chocoyos fly by making a racket. Yellow guïs sit on the roof ridge and make their distinctive sound, which is guïs. About this time, the neighbor’s yellow cat usually walks by on the roofs.

Just as the swifts are settling, the bats start to fly out. At first there are just a few zigzagging silhouettes among the graceful birds, but then they start to pour out of the roof peaks of the adjoining houses and are eventually lost in the approaching darkness. Cathedral bells ring and church bells answer. Dinner smells drift up to the balcony. We sit for a little longer and then Moni calls us to eat.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


There is a march planned for next Saturday. The opposition is uniting to protest fraud and intimidation as practiced by the current government. Since demonstrations have been pretty violent lately with people being bused in to create trouble, I’m concerned about the chance for a peaceful demonstration. Even though the head of the police has promised that the demonstrators will be protected, I’m worried. La Prensa is reporting that buses are being loaded with stones and homemade mortars by the Sandinistas. It seems that they have decided to counter demonstrate with a “celebration of victory” and are calling on supporters from far and wide. Some one has already been down my street painting the power poles in fresh red and black so I am sure I will get a front row seat for the parade out of town to Managua. I’m sure that there will be some kind of set up to justify violence. I’m nervous for friends I know will be there.

San Martin

When I stopped by the Cathedral yesterday, I noticed that a couple of Saint’s statues had fresh flowers. That means they are getting ready to go for a ride. He parish bulletin said it was the celebrations for San Martin de Porres. He is Peruvian and the first black saint of the Americas. He lived at the end of the sixteenth century and is a patron saint of peace. This morning, Sunday, more rockets than usual went off at 5:00 and I heard a rather larger band going by. But I just rolled over and went back to sleep. I would have liked to see him go by, but there were just too many stairs and doors to unlock.

Just now San Martin has toured the streets again. An ambulance with siren went in front and the band followed surrounding the bearers with the small statue of the brown robed San Martin. I heard the band and stuck my head out the door to see my neighbors sitting in their chairs watching the procession. I am still too shy to pull my chair onto the sidewalk, but I am taking baby steps by having my front doors open so I can see everyone that goes by while I sit in my chair in the sala.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Having spent the last more than a decade in Seattle, the land of no screens, I have grown unaccustomed to bugs. My high and mighty organic principles are being challenged by the tropics. Powder post beetles destroyed most of the first harvest of bamboo for Jonathan's company and they are present in each hand crafted bamboo basket I can't keep myself from buying in Catarina. I keep spraying the baskets with Raid, but it only helps momentarily. I'm terrified the beetles will get into the ancient wood of the house and destroy it. In desperation the other day, I soaked the baskets in the insecticide I found in the closet. Riccardo had bought it to but on the lawn for the mosquitos, but I wouldn't let him use it. I mixed up a big batch, doused the baskets in it and dumped it on the garden.

There are several types of mosquitos. The teeny tiny ones at night that you can't see but leave three inch welts on your body when they bite. I have screens and a bed net, but still, they are a problem. The medium sized evening ones that live under the dining room table and make tiny bites on your ankles. Guests are always sitting with their legs on a chair, I notice. Then there are the dreaded day time mosquitos, which can have dengue. The biggish, blackish ones. The health department has come by several times putting crystals in all standing water including flower vases. When I ask where I can buy some of those - to keep the flower vases freshly sprinkled - they tell me you can't buy it anywhere. The dengue outbreak is worst in Masaya and Managua and I sure wish I could get my hands on some prementherine so I could treat the boys school uniforms. For a while, I was convinced that Eucalyptus oil repelled mosquitoes, but I think I was just smearing it all over my legs the week after the health department came.

Cockroaches don't bother me, so I won't mention them except to say, they ARE big. Spiders never bothered me before, but there are so many tiny ones. That brings us to ants. The most hated ones are living in the cracks in the ground that I always step on. Their bites itch like crazy for days. The house and garden ants don't bite, but they do swarm over every bit of food. Wiping the counters with eucalyptus oil doesn't help.

I was once sitting at a restaurant in Catharina and as I was eating, the waitress was spraying the table cloth on each little table with a big cloud of Raid. I was horrified and disgusted, but now I sort of understand.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Lucia's mama pig had piglets last week. Eugenia and Lucia delivered all the little ones and cut their cords. The vet will be by to give shots this week. In December, Lucia will be able to sell them for $7 dollars a piece. Fabiola's favorite is the runt of the litter. I gave her Charlottes Web for Christmas last year, but I am not sure it such a good idea read to it at this particular moment. Unfortunately, one pig was lost since I took the picture, leaving only 9.

Hurricane Ida

Hurricane Ida slammed into the Atlantic Coast on Thursday. It quickly reverted to a tropical storm, but not before messing up the coast communities and Carribean Islands. Some 13,000 people are affected with 900 houses losing their roofs. Estimates say that 80% of the wells are contaminated. Forests were knocked down and harvests were lost. Now there is a big problem with flooded rivers and people stranded far from their homes. Goods will not be getting to market for a while.

The government has stepped in quickly to assure that aid is on it's way and will continue for 5 months using ALBA (Chavez led alternative to the Association of American States) funds. Funny thing, just yesterday there was an article about how Ortega was secretly spending ALBA funds out of a house next to his own in Managua. RAAS and RAAN - the Autonomous Atlantic Regions have always had a difficult relationship with the central government. They are not counting their pennies yet.

Here on the other side, we just had a very pleasant rainy weekend.

Ida continued on to El Salvador, killed about 100 people and caused a state of emergency.

Dia de los Difuntos - Day of the Dead Nov. 2

There were a lot of Halloween parties in Granada, but the big observance was for Dia de los Difuntos. I tagged along with Lucia and Fabiola as they visited the graves of their relatives in the beautiful old cemetery on the outskirts of Granada. Mombacho rises up behind the tombs of the dead that are much fancier than the houses in the area directly adjoining the cemetery. There are presidents and famous writers and lots of the old families of Granada. Once you get past the big mausoleums, the structures are simple, mostly just one level with space for 4 people. Out in the way back, there are just mounds of dirt with wooden crosses.

The street leading to the cemetery was more crowded than usual and we walked behind a group swinging rakes and machetes to use to make a little money cleaning grave sites. Flower sellers were fanned out along the whole front, usually there is just one woman with a basket on her head. Since they were mostly so aggressive, I bought some bouquets from the most timid vendor I could find. She probably had to give all her money to her mom.

There were a couple funerals that day and the chapel was full with a family saying good bye to a loved one. The Jesus was hanging on his cross outside the chapel with a little box for donations. Later, he will be carried in a procession throughout the roads of the cemetery. Families were gathered by their dearly deceased, engaged in the mundane work of cleaning, paining and decorating the tombs and graves.

Lucia went to meet her mother-in-law at her father-in-laws grave. They reminisced and filled me in on the activities of Omar’s 8 siblings. His sister artfully arranged the flowers while the grand kids ran around the grave. The family discussed further gravesite acquisition. There are only two spots left and they belong to an aunt. Just Omar’s family would need a lot more room and Lucia’s family has 9 children in her generation, too. They really need two more large plots with multistory tombs. But the jewelry business isn’t really doing well enough to get the $150 necessary.

We went on to visit the grave of Lucia’s Tia and Tio who died within one week of each other about a month ago. They had lost their beloved son a few months earlier and it was just too much to bear. Although they didn’t have a family plot, their graves are close together because they died around the same time. A new grave was being dug right next to the Tios and the gravediggers had hung their shirts on the cross and left their shoes and water bottles in the fresh mound of the grave. The band was playi

ng for the family of the newly deceased and the diggers enjoyed the music.

We went on to look for the graves of Lucia’s grandmother; her dad’s mom. Her maternal grandmother just celebrated her 99th birthday. After that, we tried to find the grave of her nephews’ grandmother. Because all of her children are working in Costa Rica, there was no one to tend her grave and we wanted to leave our last flowers. Fabiola walked slowly reading all the names, but we couldn’t find her. We walked back home. It was really hot so we had to stop for a drink along the way.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

First Small Wave

I had my first small wave of homesickness. This afternoon and into the evening, our neighbors were blaring music. I couldn't think after a while and I so missed our Seattle neighborly restraint. When the music stopped, it was really only 7, but I was extra cranky because some other neighbor was playing music until 3 this morning. Jonathan put on the Decemberists and we sang along and talked about what the music reminded us of - Driving to Orcas Island. The music evoked a vision of a cold, quiet and sunny afternoon somewhere in the Upper Midwest insulated by blocks and blocks of comfortable houses full of well fed people with jobs and winsome irony.

A different neighbor came by - Roland is technically not on our street - but lives close by. He wondered if I could give him something to eat. He is in charge of our recycling for a couple bucks a week. But I only give him food in the evening because he is often drunk or high then. Poor guy, he hasn't figured out Moni's schedule. I hadn't finished making dinner yet, so I gave him some cold beans and an egg. He said that was fine, he could cook.

We had our dinner and watched a bat fly around the courtyard. Later, as I was walking down the steps, I looked at the pool in its stunning clarity. I thought, Wow, this is pretty cool. Wave washed by.